You just finished lunch. You grabbed a sandwich, an apple, and a bottle of OJ from a local spot with coworkers, but as you sit down at your desk, you feel groggy. Your mind is hazy, perhaps you’re even a bit irritable. Maybe part of you even wishes you lived in a European country where afternoon siestas are more the norm.
You eventually get back in the swing of things, but you notice the post-lunch drowsiness is a daily ritual. But why? Your sandwich was healthy enough, you opted for an apple over a bag of chips, and even loaded up on vitamin C with a fresh pressed OJ. Shouldn’t you be energized for the second half of the day?
Not necessarily. The post-lunch slump is caused by a blood sugar spike. When we eat food, our body breaks it down into glucose. Fibrous foods like vegetables take a longer time to break down, which gives the body a chance to process the glucose at a comfortable, steady pace. More processed or sugary foods saturate our system with glucose at a greater speed because there’s no fiber to slow the process. In response, the body releases insulin to quickly bring down our blood sugar levels, which leads to the energy crash we feel.
In short, sugary, high-carb, or processed foods cause a sugar spike followed by a crash—leaving you with post meal fatigue, brain fog, and even irritability. In addition to fatigue after eating, constant blood sugar spikes can lead to different health issues like diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and heart disease in the long term.
So, how can you better manage your blood sugar, avoid the post lunch slump, and improve your health in a sustainable way? In her book, The Glucose Revolution, Jessie Inchauspé, PhD, (known as the Glucose Goddess) lays out the following research-backed best practices:
1. Reorder Your Meal
Inchauspé’s first and most significant tip is to eat your food in a specific order, prioritizing more fibrous foods first and always putting carbohydrate-heavy foods last. Researchers have found that this order decreases glucose spikes and normalizes blood sugar levels throughout the day. But how?
The fiber in the vegetables acts like a net, catching the higher carbohydrate foods and slowing the time it takes for them to digest. This decreases the overall glucose spike and keeps your blood sugar steady after a meal. Because of this, you’ll feel less of that post-meal slump, and you’ll support better outcomes for your long-term health, particularly if you are battling any insulin or sugar-related health issues.
To put this into practice, here’s the order Inchauspé recommends you eat your meals (and snacks)!
- 1 – Vegetables, salad, or another source of fiber
- 2 – Proteins and fats
- 3 – Carbohydrates (always last!)
Below is one of the diagrams Inchauspé shares on her Instagram account, @GlucoseGoddess, which shows how adding a salad to your meal can flatten the glucose spike post-meal.
It’s important to note that her recommendation isn’t to cut or even decrease your carbohydrates. In fact, it’s the opposite! Carbohydrates are a welcome and essential part of your diet, and eating them at the end of the meal helps your body digest them at a steady pace.
2. Add Vinegar to Your Routine
Once you’ve gotten your new meal order down pat, Inchauspé recommends adding one tablespoon of vinegar to your diet each day. Research has shown vinegar helps the body process carbohydrates and flattens glucose spikes throughout the day.
To optimize your vinegar intake, aim to have vinegar in one of the forms listed below before you eat a higher carbohydrate meal.
For instance, if you know you won’t have access to a salad starter at a friend’s dinner party, Inchauspé recommends having a tablespoon of vinegar in a glass of water before you leave the house. Moreover, if you’re having a night in and nothing sounds better than a few scoops of Ben & Jerry’s, first gulp down a quick water-vinegar mix! This will decrease the glucose spike from your sugary treat.
Any form of vinegar works, and three ways you can add vinegar into your daily diet include:
- Boiling a cup of water and adding a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar
- Mixing a tablespoon of vinegar with an 8 ounce glass of water
- Using vinegar as a dressing on your salad
3. Get Active for 10 Minutes Post-Meal
Now that you know the magic meal order and the benefits of vinegar, there’s one more tool you can add to your glucose management arsenal: post-meal movement.
Researchers have shown that just 10 minutes of movement after a meal can help you decrease blood sugar spikes. You might go on a walk with your family, march in place while you watch a Netflix show, or even do simple soleus raises at your desk. This doesn’t need to be vigorous, cardio movement; it really just needs to be some simple form of flexing your muscles to put your glucose to work.
The soleus raise is particularly nifty—especially if you’re unable to go on a post-meal walk. To do it, plant your feet flat on the floor while sitting. Raise your heels using your calf muscles. This activates your gastrocnemius and your soleus, both muscles in your calf area. With a few reps, you’ll start to feel the burn, even with such a simple exercise. Use this to help you break down your glucose after a meal!
To bring all the tips together, let’s go back to the sandwich, apple, and OJ lunch order. Here’s what Jessie might recommend:
- First, add some kind of veggie starter—maybe instead of the apple, you get a side salad, or you pack some celery, cucumber and carrots from home.
- The next step is optional, but highly impactful: deconstruct your sandwich. If it’s a chicken club, you’ll want to eat the grilled chicken, bacon, and avocado after your veggie starter. You’ll eat the bread afterwards. This can be a unique choice at a lunch with coworkers, so know it’s not necessary, but something to experiment with!
- Eat the apple last, and in terms of the OJ, Inchauspé recommends eating your foods whole. You’ll get more nutritional value and less of a glucose spike from eating an orange, rather than drinking a bottle of orange juice.
- After lunch, go for a walk or do some soleus raises at your desk!
For bonus points, you can add in a vinegar-water drink before dinner. And voila! You’ve followed the tenets of blood sugar regulation. Notice what differences you start to feel, both in the short and long term.
In summary: 1) reorder your food, 2) add vinegar, and 3) get post-prandial movement daily!
To read more about the Glucose Goddess: